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THE ISSUE: Return on investment for college education; OUR OPINION: Cost of education, potential lifetime gain should be strong motivators

From $20,000 to $65,000 a year – that’s the tuition cost for one year of college, says John McDonough, a money expert who helps retirees and parents plan for their families’ futures.

“For the 2012–13 academic year, the average cost for an in-state public college is $22,261. A moderate budget for a private college averaged $43,289,” says McDonough, CEO of Studemont Group College Funding Solutions, studemontgroup.com. “But for elite schools, we’re talking about three times the cost of your local state school. Either way, your kid’s higher education can easily shoot into six figures after four years.”

Along with worrying about rising tuition prices, parents also fear for their own futures if their retirement savings are drained by children’s college costs, McDonough says. Only 14 percent, for example, are very confident they’ll have the money to live comfortably in retirement, he says, citing a 2012 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Still parents want the best for their children, knowing that statistics show a college degree is financially worthwhile over a lifetime.

College graduates earn 84 percent more than those with only a high school diploma, according to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Over a lifetime, based on education, a doctoral degree-holder will earn $3.3 million; $2.3 million is estimated for a college graduate, and those with only a high school diploma can expect $1.3 million.

Against this backdrop, parents want to be certain they are getting their money’s worth in financing a college education.

Just this week, AffordableCollegesOnline.org released its rankings of South Carolina higher education institutions based on rate of return on investment – schools with low net costs in tuition and fees whose graduates have the highest lifetime earnings when compared to non-degree holders.

The website analyzed 111 colleges in the state and ranked 16 fully accredited public and private institutions that grant four-year degrees. Return-on-investment rank is based on low net costs (tuition + fees) and highest lifetime earnings when compared to non-degree holders. Statistics come from PayScale, the National Center for Education Statistics, the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System and the Carnegie Foundation.

Clemson led the ROI rankings in the Palmetto State. Clemson graduates will earn $872,700 more than those without degrees over a 30-year span, according to the website. The annual tuition for the state-supported university is reported as $11,524.

Of note, South Carolina State in Orangeburg is ranked 12th among the 16 with an ROI of $222,600. The public university’s annual tuition is reported as $8,688.

Here are the AffordableCollegesOnline.org rankings for South Carolina:

1. Clemson University/public, $872,700 ROI, $11,524 tuition

2. Presbyterian College/private, $590,500 ROI, $28,680 tuition

3. Furman University/private, $530,000 ROI, $39,200 tuition

4. University of South Carolina-Main Campus/public, $440,700 ROI, $9,768 tuition

5. College of Charleston/public, $335,300 ROI, $10,000 tuition

6. Lander University/public, $306,100 ROI, $8,724 tuition

7. Winthrop University/public, $295,900 ROI, $12,656 tuition

8. Southern Wesleyan University/private, $281,900 ROI, $19,950 tuition

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9. Wofford College/private, $279,600 ROI, $32,070 tuition

10. Limestone College/private, $268,800 ROI, $20,000 tuition

11. Coastal Carolina/public, $261,100 ROI, $9,680 tuition

12. South Carolina State/public, $222,600 ROI, $8,688 tuition

13. Newberry College/private, $215,000 ROI, $21,500 tuition

14. Charleston Southern University/private, $197,700 ROI, $20,600 tuition

15. Columbia College/private, $77,440 ROI, $24,600 tuition

16. Francis Marion/public, $17,670 ROI, $8,467 tuition

The tuition costs alone, which are just a portion of the expense of a college education, are enough to make parents and students take deep breaths as they determine how to finance the pursuit of a degree/degrees that are, on average, going to pay off for them over a lifetime. If nothing else, the numbers are certainly enough to give students every reason to take a very serious and business-like approach to obtaining an advanced education.

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It’s nearly time to head back to school and back to campus. To help get you ready, The Times and Democrat and TheTandD.com feature our Back to School section this Sunday.

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